War of the Spark: Ravnica - A Review
Is War of the Spark the real end of Nicol Bolas? Did the Gatewatch manage to beat the Elder Dragon once and for all? There's only one way to find out. Ryan Scicluna reviews the War of the Spark: Ravnica novel by Greg Weisman and clues us in on whether the story is as great as it is hyped up to be.
A story years in the making, a plan set in motions centuries ago, all coming to a conclusion in an epic confrontation on the plane of Ravnica. On one side, Nicol Bolas, Elder Dragon planeswalker, scheming to regain his godhood by invading Ravnica with an army of immortals. On the other, the Gatewatch, a group of planeswalkers sworn to protect the innocent from tyrants all across the multiverse. Unbeknown to the Gatewatch, however, they are walking right into a trap set by Bolas to harvest their planeswalking spark for his own nefarious needs. How does the final showdown unfold?
The Narrative Perspective
From a narrative point of view, War of the Spark: Ravnica should be the final book in a series that has been ongoing for years. One can argue that all relevant stories leading up to this final confrontation have always been available on the Magic:The Gathering website, however, this does not make it easy for unfamiliar readers to truly enjoy its scope.
This epic fantasy novel by Greg Weisman is the climax to a story that has spanned multiple years and as such, drops off the reader in the middle of a conflict they might not have the context of. This results in rushed background explanations, glossing over details that made the actual stories compelling and worth following. For fans of the general Magic story, this is not a bad thing per se, as the novel serves as their means to be brought up to speed with what some characters have been up to so far. But for general readers, the story might come off as rushed.
Over the course of novel, new characters are introduced and rushed to the main plot. This can be chaotic and unsatisfying to readers. The fact that the main plot revolves around a number of planeswalkers – whom the reader is expected to already be familiar with – does not help make it compelling. Sure, the reader is made aware of the high stakes. But in reality, people unfamiliar with Magic's lore will not always feel the gravity of the situations put forward. Usually there is a build up towards a climax, and if you have been following the narrative across the years, War of the Spark: Ravnica will deliver a satisfying conclusion to that narrative. If, however, you started reading the book without prior knowledge, you will not experience an emotional development, as the invasion has already started in the story and everyone is already in panic mode trying to defeat the big bad villain. There is no payoff or real reason to get invested in its plot without having experienced the developing arcs of the individual characters and their past interactions.
The problem with this story is mostly the fact that it tries to cater to two separate and different audiences: the new players and fans of MTG and the hardcore fans who already know all the lore. At the very end of this novel, there is also a confusing chapter, which made me go back and reread the previous two chapters just because of its placement.
Commence the Endgame… Maybe?
Although culminating approximately at the same time, War of the Spark is no Avengers: Endgame! As a fan, I do appreciate how everything came together in the end.
Bolas' plan was to trap the planeswalkers in Ravnica and distract the Gatewatch with an invasion. He would then use The Elderspell to harvest their planeswalker sparks to regain his god-like powers from before the Mending. The plan was flawless – except, of course, for one thing: Bolas' overconfidence. Sure, there were the secret machinations of Ugin and Niv-Mizzet, but in the end, Bolas' Achilles heel was his hubris. (That is how things usually go when Nicol Bolas is the villain in an MTG story.)
This left the involvement of the Gatewatch kind of disappointing and lacking. If Liliana Vess had not had a change of heart in the very end, the Gatewatch would have failed. Nicol Bolas was simply ahead of the team in every step, even spreading rumors of a weapon that might have previously been used to kill an Elder Dragon in Domanaria. This, at least, was a surprising development, which felt fresh and caught not only the heroes off guard, but also the reader.
Again, certain parts of the story seemed rushed. The fight with Tezzeret was way too brief and could have benefitted from a more powerful Tezzeret. In the story, he did not even try hard to put up much resistance, and this left me disappointed. When another team confronted Dovin Baan, I felt genuinely surprised when Lazav popped up, but ultimately dissatisfied by the fact that Chandra Nalaar didn't really get a chance to fight Dovin. Some of these previously built-up conflicts ended abruptly – probably to become material for the sequel or future stories to come.
The characterization of most of the protagonists involved in the story was also a bit lacking. Most characters were one dimensional, going through the usual motions and moving from point A to B as the plot dictated. One big surprise though was Dack Fayden. He was the only person in the story who had some real character development. It is frustrating that he did not get a new planeswalker card in the set, as he was a crucial part of the story. The most annoying of all, was how certain characters were just briefly mentioned for fan service. If only we had gotten a little bit more characterization out of them.
Even though it might seem as if I was too negative about War of the Spark: Ravnica, I actually did like it as a quick fun read. This, however, is because I have been following the story from the beginning and I can't guarantee that someone new to Magic might feel the same.
The novel tries to appeal to a larger audience and not only to the hardcore lore fans (myself included). I still enjoyed the read and the story even gets emotional in some places. But again, the characters could have been fleshed out more and some of the story elements could have been handled a little bit better. Having the other (short) stories that lead up to this big one published would have greatly improved the enjoyment for non-MTG fans.
On the plus side, War of the Spark: Ravnica can be enjoyed by those who just want to know a little bit more about the characters on their cards. New players can find this as an introduction into the extensive lore of Magic: The Gathering. Whether this is a good thing or not, it is subject to the opinion of different readers. Again, I am not saying that everything was perfect, but for a quick fun read, it does its job. Just do not expect any depth or it to be a literary masterpiece that will take your breath away. This publication reminds me of Ursula le Guin's speech at the National Book Awards in 2014 in which she says:
"Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship."
This story feels like its sole purpose was to tie everything together in such a way that will introduce new players to the characters on their cards without the need to be heavily invested in their backstories. There is also a "sequel-esque" feeling to it, as the story is not fully concluded. As a result, it has a mass appeal.
P.S. 1 - A sequel novel for War of the Spark: Ravnica has already been confirmed. It is set to be released in November 2019 and will be titled, War of the Spark: Forsaken.
P.S. 2 - On Wednesday, 8 May 2019, MTG published online the first episode of a series they are calling Greg Weisman's War of the Spark web fiction. This, I believe, is where most of the points and flaws about characterization, etc. will be addressed as a means to extend or answer questions from the main novel. However, good or bad, it is a shame that such insight was not in the main book. Instead, readers still have to be aware of the additional content online, like some sort of DLC for books. This missing chapters idea is not a good one, as this makes it harder for readers to actually follow the full story.
What do you think? Have you read War of the Spark: Ravnica by Greg Weisman? Do you like it or do you prefer the old MTG novels that Wizards of the Coast used to publish? Comment down below with your thoughts.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
Check out our War of the Spark page if you're interested in picking these up before everyone else catches on!
Other Stories that lead to War of the Spark: Ravnica can be found on the MTG website.
In chronological reading order:
The Aim and Formation of the Gatewatch
- Battle for Zendikar
- Oath of the Gatewatch
How Liliana Got Involved with the Gatewatch
- Shadows Over Innistrad
- Eldrich Moon
The Origins of the Interplanar Bridge
- Aether Revolt
The Creation of the Dreadhorde Army
- Hour of Devastation
The Immortal Sun
- Rivals of Ixalan
How Gideon Obtained the Blackblade